Education Secretary vows ‘tougher guidelines’ after Child Q’s strip-searching

Nadhim Zahawi said he will set out a new policy in response to the ‘appalling’ incident.

27 March 2022

“Much tougher guidelines” will be introduced in response to the “hugely distressing” strip-searching of the black schoolgirl referred to as Child Q, the Education Secretary has vowed.

Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday he will set out a new policy “very soon” in response to the “appalling” incident after the 15-year-old was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at her east London school.

Protests and condemnation erupted after it emerged the teenager was searched by female Metropolitan Police officers in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating.

A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP), concluded the strip-search was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.

Mr Zahawi told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show: “It’s appalling, what happened. I’m reviewing what our guidelines, our policies, are on this. No child should have been exposed to that sort of trauma.

“The parents weren’t even contacted, which I find hugely distressing, which is why I’ve asked my team to review the policy on this, and I will be saying more about this very soon.”

He did not say whether he thought racism was a factor, adding: “I don’t know because I don’t know what drove those police officers.

“You don’t have to have a child to be shocked that a child is allowed to be strip-searched in an environment which is meant to be a protective environment – school is a protective environment for children – hence why I have asked my team to make sure that we review the policies, and I will be saying more, but I will certainly be looking at putting out much tougher guidelines on this.”

Earlier, Nimco Ali, chief executive of the Five Foundation and an adviser on violence against women and girls to the Home Office, said the Child Q case “should be something we shouldn’t be able to tolerate in this country”.

Asked about the safeguarding report’s conclusion that racism was a factor, Ms Ali told Sky News: “This country is one of the most tolerant countries in Europe but is there more for us to do? Yes, there is.”

She added that Covid had brought out more racism, adding: “I’ve kind of experienced that in the last two years – that really horrific experience of racism, which I never thought that the UK could be capable of.

“Ultimately, we have to talk about the Metropolitan Police and institutional racism.”

Her comments come after Metropolitan Police data showed an average of five children are strip-searched every day by officers in London, which prompted fresh anger after the Child Q case.

The figures, first reported by LBC, show that out of 5,279 children searched after an arrest in the past three years, 3,939 – around 75% – were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

The data did not cover children who were not arrested but still strip-searched – like Child Q – so the number is likely to be even higher.

Weyman Bennett of the Stand Up to Racism campaign group called for “urgent change” in light of the “shocking” data.

He told the PA news agency: “You judge a society on how it treats its children.

“These figures are shocking and expose institutional racism in the Met Police.”

Mr Bennett said it is “shocking” that “these things are still going ahead” more than two decades after the report into the death of Stephen Lawrence was published.

He said: “We need urgent change to deliver a police force that works in the 21st century.”

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police defended its policy, known as More Thorough Search where Intimate Parts are exposed (MTIP).

A spokesperson said: “Every search must be lawful, proportionate and necessary and carried out with respect, dignity and empathy.

“While some may question whether any child should be subject to an MTIP or strip-search, there are occasions when it is very necessary to prevent harm to children who may be exploited by gangs, county lines and drug dealers.”

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